Thursday, 27 June 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
As we gather in the Chamber our thoughts are very much in St. Columba's Church in Glenswilly as the funeral mass gets under way for the late Councillor Manus Kelly. I join my party and all of us in sending our thoughts this morning, in particular, to its family and friends as we gather.
The issues surrounding the national children's hospital and the overrun are not going away. This morning, in The Irish TimesMartin Wall reported on a letter sent in April by the acting director general of the HSE, Anne O'Connor, who is still a very senior official within the executive, outlining her concerns about the construction of the HSE's capital plan and the difficulties that the overrun in the children's hospital were having on this.
We are now at the end of June and we still do not have the HSE's capital plan for 2019. The executive has still not outlined a plan. Will the Tánaiste comment on why we still do not have a capital plan? I want him to give a commitment to the House that the plan will be published before 11 July when the House goes into recess for the summer. The letter in the article this morning outlined a number of concerns of HSE management and the officials in charge of implementing the plan. There is one line in it that sums everything up, which is "The additional impact now of the national children's hospital overrun over the years 2020/2021/2022 has made what was a very difficult situation almost impossible." This is from the horse's mouth. This is from the people in charge of the programme whose job it is to implement it. However, the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Harris, continue to act as if there is no problem and continue to state there is nothing to see here and that they will manage the cost overruns and spread them out. The Government published a list of projects that would be re-profiled.
The people on the ground and in charge of implementing this project have sent up a flag this morning. What is the Tánaiste's reaction to this? The only political oversight of the national children's hospital during its inception related to the PR opportunities involved, and the photographs would happen at the right time. There was oversight of yellow jackets, hard hats and cameras. Meanwhile, the overspend continued to mount and now it will hit communities throughout the country. This has been proven by the letter this morning.
The capital plan means new buildings, new facilities and new ambulances. It is the essence of what is important in redesigning our health programme in line with the aspirations of Sláintecare. The then acting director general called it out for what it is. As we speak, the director general and the Secretary General of the Department of Health are before the Committee of Public Accounts outlining the ongoing charges to the health budget. This overspend has happened on the Government's watch. Will he comment on the letter and commit to the publication of the HSE's capital plan for 2019? It is unbelievable that we still do not have it at the end of June 2019. I want the Tánaiste to commit to the publication of that plan and a discussion on it in the Chamber before we go to recess.
I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. As he knows, in respect of financing the children's hospital project, €150 million has been included in the 2019 capital profiles for the project. Based on the outcome of the guaranteed maximum price, GMP, process in December 2018, an additional €100 million was required to fund the project this year. The Government decided that €24 million of this additional requirement would be provided from the health capital allocation. The balance for 2019 of €75 million will be met by rescheduling capital allocations in other Departments, which has been the subject of discussion in the Chamber many times. This is out of a total proposed capital allocation in the State of €7.33 billion in 2019. It is important to note that this is an increase of €1.33 billion, or 22%, on the 2018 allocation.
The new children's hospital is a vital and much needed project and the Government has examined the funding pressures associated with delivering this important project. In meeting these funding pressures, the Government examined all projects and programmes throughout government and has made adjustments to ensure the much needed new children's hospital will be delivered and will be facilitated as part of the overall capital investment programme. Projects in construction and contractually committed projects will not be affected, as the Minister has said many times. With regard to meeting the additional funding requirements for the project in future years, the Department of Health is engaged with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the HSE.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform announced the State is speeding up reforms to our public procurement processes, and certainly lessons will be learned from this project. As the Deputy said, the HSE is finalising the capital plan for this year. The requirements of the new children's hospital and other health capital projects at various stages of development are being considered as part of this process. The capital allocation for health in 2019 is €642 million for the construction and equipping of health services. When that work is finalised, of course it will be subject to debate in the House. When the HSE has it ready, it will present it to the Minister.
This is the same response we have been getting month after month - that everything is fine and not to worry. In fairness, how can the Tánaiste stand up on 27 June and with a straight face state the capital plan for the year is being finalised? Six months have gone by and we still have not seen the capital plan but he has still made that reply. The report in today's edition of The Irish Timesstates an additional €107 million will be required in 2020, an additional €120 million in 2021 and an additional €150 million in 2022. It is not just about 2019. The consequences of the lack of oversight and lack of control in this project will continue to be felt. I again ask the Tánaiste to commit to publishing that plan before we go into recess in order that we can have a debate on it. What is the Tánaiste's comment on the fact that the then acting director general of the HSE stated the additional impact of the national children's hospital has made a very difficult situation almost impossible? How does he respond to this?
Allocating capital resources in healthcare is always challenging. What the Minister for Health, the Taoiseach and I have committed to over and over again is that projects under way, which we have contracted to deliver, are proceeding. When we consider the €7.33 billion of capital expenditure, it puts into context the challenge we have to overcome from a healthcare perspective of finding €24 million of the extra money required for 2019, with regard to the projects being delivered and, where possible, re-profiling. That work is continuing. As soon as it is done it will be presented the Minister and I am sure he will present it to the House. I cannot make a commitment on behalf of the Minister this afternoon. However, we will conclude the work as soon as we can and it will be debated transparently in the House when it is done.
I want to raise the same topic. In January, the Taoiseach stated no capital project would be delayed or cut as a result of the cost overrun in the children's hospital. Only last Thursday, in the very seat in which the Tánaiste is sitting, the Minister for Finance reiterated this position during Question Time. He stated no project would be cut or delayed as a result of the cost overruns in the children's hospital. In February, a draft capital plan by the HSE was discussed and it was almost ready to be signed off.
However, as a result of the information then given to the HSE on the cost overruns on the national children's hospital project, the capital plan had to be revisited. We are coming up to 1 July and the plan has still not been published. It is not possible for the Government to have it both ways. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance cannot state there is no impact on the capital projects which have been announced as a result of the cost overruns. That is because this morning at the Committee of Public Accounts, leaving aside what the interim director general of the HSE, Ms O'Connor, said, the director general who is in the job some six weeks stated the very reason we did not have a capital plan published by the HSE was the direct result and consequences of the cost overruns on the national children's hospital project. The HSE is still in negotiations with the Department of Health to see what impact the overruns will have on capital projects in 2020, 2021 and 2022. We have been trying to get the capital plan published for six months. We are being told that there is no issue when it comes to capital projects and that there are no cuts or delays for budgetary reasons. If that is the case, what has the HSE and the Department of Health been discussing for the past five to six months regarding the capital plan? Why has it not been published? It does not add up. What the Tánaiste is stating is not credible. The overruns either have an impact and we are still trying to figure what it will be, which is why the plan has not been published, or there is politics going on and an attempt to pull the wool over people's eyes. The overruns will either have an impact or they will not. Which is it?
It needs to take into account the fact that additional funding of €24 million has to be catered for within the allocation. That is in the context of spending nearly €700 million overall. Work is ongoing to ensure the commitments we have made in this House-----
The HSE has to carry out the difficult task of ensuring the commitments that have been made will be fully followed through and that the cost underestimates on the national children's hospital that have been corrected will actually be catered for.
The Tánaiste has said the HSE has a very difficult job to do. That difficult job has now become impossible. They are not my words but the words of Ms O'Connor, the interim director general of the HSE. It has become impossible because of the cost overruns associated with the national children's hospital. Somebody needs to get the story straight. As far back as January and right up to last Thursday, the Taoiseach was telling us that the cost overruns had had no impact on capital projects. If that is the case, why did the director general of the HSE tell us this morning at the Committee of Public Accounts that the very reason the plan had not yet been published was the HSE was still trying to ascertain what impact the cost overruns would have on capital projects, not just this year but next year, 2021 and 2022? There cannot be one story from the Government, while the very people responsible for implementing the plan are telling us something completely different. What have the HSE and the Department of Health been discussing for the past five or six months if there is no issue? Come on.
I am sorry, I am chairing this session. I want to ensure the Tánaiste will receive the same treatment as any other Deputy. Perhaps that is the suggestion the Minister, Deputy Madigan, is making. I will, however, chair the session and give the Tánaiste the same treatment any other Deputy. I do not have to be reminded. The Tánaiste to continue, without interruption.
They are not unreasonable questions. The House wants to know how we are going to accommodate the increased cost of the national children's hospital. I hope the Opposition is not suggesting we abandon moving ahead with the project.
I am glad to have the opportunity to raise again the matter of the proposed Killarney bypass. There were two parts to the project when it was first put before the members of Kerry County Council. The first part runs from Lissivigeen to beyond Farranfore on the N22. It is to run from Lissivigeen to Castlelough on the Muckross road on the N70. It is a vital project which will reduce pressure and the number of accidents from Lissivigeen to beyond Farranfore. There have been many fatalities at Coolcaslagh, Ballycasheen, the top of Lewis road, Madam's Hill and the Four Roads junction in Farranfore village. At the last count, on the current bypass which is not sufficient, an estimated 18,600 vehicles passed by daily. It is probably higher now. The road links the Ring of Kerry, the Killorglin road and the Cork to Tralee road.
The other leg will run from Lissivigeen to Castlelough to avoid the need for traffic from Kenmare and the Ring of Kerry to pass through the heart of Killarney town. All of the traffic heading to other parts of the country would not have to use the Muckross road. It would also mean that all of the traffic, the thousands of cars heading to Muckross House and Gardens and the national park would not have to pass through Killarney town and clog it up. The Muckross road, the town, Mission road and Dr. Hans Liebherr Road become parking lots at certain times of the day because traffic cannot move. On the one hand, it is good that we have this traffic into Killarney town which is the tourist capital of Ireland and where the tourism operators are second to none. However, they need assistance at this stage to ensure their product will not be diminished by visitors complaining about being held up in traffic.
This project was first put in front of us in 2004. In 2017 I raised it and we got €50,000 just to dust down the files. We got €500,000 this year to carry out further studies and preparatory work. I am asking the Tánaiste to commit to ensuring this project is included in the coming year's capital investment programme.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am not sure that in reality raising it in Leaders' Questions is the best way to move this project forward, but I will certainly give an update on the situation as I understand it.
I know they can but it might not be the most effective way to get this project moving forward. The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, is pushing this project as well. The scheme consists of 27 km of road improvements between Farranfore and Killarney along the N22. I presume that is the scheme about which the Deputy is asking. The scheme provides for a bypass of Farranfore village, a new realigned N22, including a link into Killarney town, and an outer bypass of Killarney town. The current status of the project is that the project appraisal plan was approved by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport late last December. Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, approval has now been issued to Kerry County Council to commence the procurement of technical advisers. A defined route corridor already has been selected. The project was suspended in 2010 or 2011 when there was no money. The project appraisal plan was prepared in 2018 and it is now moving forward. I am glad to say that we now have a national development plan with potential funding for the development of projects like this. I suggest that the Deputy pursues it, both with Kerry County Council and directly with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, which will be able to provide him with detailed briefs.
Councillor Maura Healy-Rae has raised it with Kerry County Council. As the Tánaiste said, the scheme was suspended in 2011 and both parts of the scheme were suspended at that time. TII's appraisal, however, has left out the very important stretch from Lissivigeen to Castlelough. It only mentions the part from Lissivigeen to beyond Farranfore, which is not adequate and will not help Killarney town at all. I ask the Tánaiste to ensure the second leg is added to the project, because that is what we were told we would get back in 2004. That was 15 years ago. Killarney and Kerry have waited 15 years and that is long enough. Time is running out for the Tánaiste and the Government of which he is a part. I am asking the Government, of which the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin is part, to ensure that the two parts of the 2004 proposal are included in this year's capital investment programme.
The Tánaiste suggests that other avenues are open to me. I am asking him in the Chamber of Dáil Éireann to progress this very worthwhile project in this year's capital investment plan. I am very sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
The Deputy knows only too well that I will not make a funding decision like that on the hoof during Leaders' Questions. I suggest that he should work with the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, who well understands the importance of this project.
He is in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and believe me, he is delivering for Kerry as well as he is for many other parts of the country in respect of tourism and transport infrastructure. There are processes by which projects are like this are prioritised, funded and delivered which must be gone through and the Deputy understands that.
Our thoughts are with the family of Councillor Manus Kelly as he is buried today. It is a tragic loss.
Tomorrow our thoughts should also be with the friends and family of Ivan Cooper, and on how we need men like Ivan Cooper today. Coming from a working-class Protestant tradition, he ended up managing a shirt factory. Championing the cause of the Catholic workers in his factory, he led the parades in 1968 and the famous Bloody Sunday parade in 1972, the source of so much of our Troubles. We are in trouble again.
After the murder of Lyra McKee almost two and a half months ago, Fr. Martin McGill asked why it had taken the death of a 29 year old woman for the parties of the North to come together again and commit to doing what they could to see a restoration of the Executive and the assembly in the North. It was hoped that this would be concluded by the end of June. I cannot see any sign of that eventuality whatsoever. I presume that such hopes will be put aside with the marching season. The difficulty is that when we return in September, we are likely to be in a most complex and fraught negotiating position with the UK Government over what is happening with Brexit. It is highly unlikely that restoration could be carried out in such circumstances. Then we will hit October. As the Taoiseach said yesterday in the national economic dialogue, a no-deal Brexit is now highly likely.
In advance of the first deadline in March, Mr. David Penman, the general secretary of the trade union representing public servants in the North, said that civil servants could not take the kind of decisions that would need to be taken in such a scenario. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, said in the House of Commons that some direct application of powers would have to be put in place in those circumstances. We would be back to direct rule. The Good Friday Agreement would be in tatters and the environment which created the conditions for it would be gone. We would face a no-deal scenario with many differences between the jurisdictions in the North and South. We would have to manage that directly with Westminster Ministers with whom we would probably be in a very uncomfortable relationship. We have a big problem with the Brexit issue but we have an even bigger problem with our immediate relations in the North. As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, this is the Tánaiste's responsibility. What in the scenario I have just set out is likely to change? How can we avoid ending up with direct rule in three or four months? What can we do about it? Will we slowly sleepwalk into an incredible political crisis on this island, as well as between this island and the neighbouring one? Is there any hope of restoration at all?
I would like to associate the Government and myself with the condolences on the death of the late Councillor Manus Kelly that have been outlined by others. I also pay tribute to and recognise the extraordinary contribution of Ivan Cooper, a civil rights campaigner who was an inspiration to many people in the work he did and the causes he fought for.
A process is currently under way to create a platform that all parties in Northern Ireland can buy into to re-establish devolved institutions and a functioning Executive and assembly. I have been deliberately low-key over the past eight weeks in relation to this process and I will remain low-key today. I will be in Stormont again this afternoon. On average I have been there three or four days a week, every week for the last eight weeks. It is important to maintain North-South and east-west relationships in the context of big and difficult questions around Brexit. However, working together and compromising with each other to create the conditions for devolved institutions not only to be re-established but to survive, function and be sustained in a way that is consistent with the Good Friday Agreement is not straightforward.
We are working hard to provide a basis for it and it would not be helpful if I were to make predictions or comment on the input or role of the different parties at this stage. There are sincere efforts being made on all sides and by all parties to make it work. We are very conscious of the narrowing window available to us before 12 July and what will follow from it.
I recognise that in the diplomatic world it is sometimes right to play things low key. However, I fear that we could be sitting here in three or four months' time, at which point it would certainly cease to be low key. It would be elevated to a political crisis, not only in the economic order but also in respect of the constitutional fabric of our agreements. In a no-deal scenario where direct rule returns and there is no prospect of that changing, the Good Friday Agreement will be gone. We could sleepwalk ourselves into it if we simply accept that people find it difficult to cross identity barriers. That is where some of the biggest issues seem to be, including the Irish language, same-sex marriage and abortion rights, and it appears to be the sticking point. Is it? If so, Ivan Cooper might be a good example. He found it difficult that sometimes people would not sit beside him in his own church because he was willing to give up some of these identity divisions. The Tánaiste is right that we need to be careful and avoid adding to it. However, the political reality of where we are heading-----
I am more than aware of the gravity of the decisions which may be made in the coming weeks in respect of relationships on this island and between Ireland and the United Kingdom and with regard to the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and all it has delivered in the past 21 years. In many ways I share the anxieties and frustrations the Deputy has outlined, but my job is to fix it, with others. That is what we are trying to do. My judgment is that the less I say about the detail for now, the better. However, that does not mean and the Deputy should not confuse it with an unwillingness to work to accommodate the different party positions. I note, in particular, that Sinn Féin is making significant efforts to find a balanced outcome which will allow for a restoration of devolution. I recognise this in the House. However, Sinn Féin has work to do, as do I, the SDLP, the Alliance Party, the UUP and DUP, to protect what has been created in the past 20 years, namely, a normalisation of relationships, a functioning all-island economy, North-South institutions which need to be reinvigorated and, of course, power sharing which is the basis of that balance at Stormont.